Church and State: In Defense of Augustine's Allegory of the Two Cities - Reformed Journal (2022)

The ongoing political debate on the separation of church and state has been all too ambiguous in the use of political arguments of St. Augustine of Hippo. Politicians who include George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi have appealed to the elements of Augustine’s legacy. Particularly the critics of Augustine’s allegory of the two cities have often relied on his writings to argue for a strict church-state separation. Yet in contemporary political uses of Augustine, it remains unclear what the exact political implications of Augustine’s allegory are. Does the doctrine of the two cities call Christians to stay in or out of politics? More important, does Augustine provide a justification for a firm separation of church and state?

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In order to examine the implications of Augustine’s allegory of the two cities, this essay addresses two major critiques against De Civitate Dei. The first critique reproaches Augustine with the concept of a divided Christian life. According to this view, Augustine not only separates politics from religion but also favors a Christianity of dual identity that brings about an alienation from politics. The second critique suggests that Augustine promotes indiff erence regarding the character of and a Christian’s participation in the civil society. According to this view, Augustine justifies any earthly regime as long as it does not impede someone’s ability to be a good Christian.

Disagreeing with the two criticisms, this article provides the following argument: While Augustine’s doctrine of the two cities does defend the glorious city of God against the pagan city of humanity, it also invites the reader of De Civitate Dei to find genuine references common to the two cities. Moreover, Augustine’s use of the two-cities doctrine does not restrict a Christian to a passive obedience of any regime whatsoever. Despite Augustine’s emphasis on both the primacy of God’s action and the sinfulness of humanity, he calls for an active Christian involvement in political life and thus for a nonexclusionary church-state relationship.

Alienating Religion from Politics?
One way to criticize Augustine’s theme of the two cities is to point to his alleged division of the Christian identity. Augustine’s formulation of a Christian identity is reproached as a dichotomy between civitas terrena, the earthly city, and civitas dei, the city of God. Moreover, because Augustine departs from the classic understanding of cosmos, where gods are seen as political deities, he is criticized for a supposedly dichotomous understanding of God. That is, Augustine believes in a God who is both radically diff erent from all creation and intimately present in every creature. Finally, as he gives the primacy to the city ruled by God and as he understands Christians as pilgrims on this world, Augustine alienates Christians from politics.

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To address this first criticism, one must take into account Augustine’s task to exculpate Christian faith from the charge of being responsible for both the sack of Rome and the strong assimilation of Christianity into the politics of the Empire.

Responding to pagan accusations about the sack of Rome, Augustine argues that Christian religion is not only incomparably better than pagan religion but also more apt to provide the citizens with civic virtue. First, with his lengthy attack on pagan religion, Augustine shows that the failure of pagan society to make a citizen virtuous originates in a false conception of divinity. This falseness is pagan polytheism. Several books of the first part of De Civitate Dei vehemently criticize pagan mythology as being responsible for the vices of Rome and the fall of the mighty empire. Second, in order to prepare a philosophical framework to show that Christianity allows and fosters an enhancement in civic virtue, Augustine refers to Scipio’s and Cicero’s definitions of the Roman commonwealth. Augustine defines the commonwealth in terms of rational people united by love of a common thing (De Civitate Dei, Book 19). By pointing to the importance of the “community of interests,” he lowers the scriptural standards of what qualifies as a just community and shows that a higher form of justice must come to the aid of human justice. True civic virtue can therefore only be acquired through the assistance of a higher form of justice, i.e., God.

Responding to the embarrassments of a politicized religion within the church, Augustine needs to show that Christian identity is not divided and absorbed into the politics of the empire. Political pressures and the problem of identity had burdened the church since 313 A.D. when it accepted political power (and coercion) as a legitimate instrument for advancing its own ends, thus losing its distinct identity. In order to distinguish the ambiguous links between church and politics, Augustine constructs “a system woven of contraries,” according to Sheldon Wolin (Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought). These contraries are expressed in the allegory of the two cities. According to this allegory, one city is ruled by caritas and the other by cupiditas. One city has been formed by the love of God and the other by the love of self.

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While Augustine believes in the existence of two distinct cities, he presents them as distinguishable only from the eternal perspective. From the earthly perspective, the two cities remain indistinguishable. The two cities are “interwoven and intermixed in this era” and await separation at the last judgment (De Civitate Dei, Book 1). From the very outset of De Civitate Dei, Augustine defends the city of God against the earthly city. Yet these two cities are called cities only by analogy. The two cities do not coincide with any earthly kingdom, and they extend beyond any earthly intercity borders.

Looking at the symbolism of the two cities from the in-this-era perspective, Augustine aims not at the exclusionary sacred-profane distinction between the different spheres of the society but at the creation of a secular space. While antiquity distinguishes between the sacred (i.e., the realm pertaining to gods) and the profane, Christianity introduces the notion of the secular. According to Robert Marcus, the notion of the secular has in fact been an essential constituent of both the Christian belief and Augustine’s political theory. The secular is not the antithesis of the sacred. Instead, Augustine declares the saeculum as opaque to human scrutiny, much as the sacred is. In this sense, Augustine’s allegory of the two cities protects human culture and politics from the attempts of an outright sacralization. The attempts of several contemporary extremist groups such as Soldiers for Christ or even the terrorist group Al Qaeda to promote their allembracing religious views through political means and vice versa would find little or no support in Augustine’s thought. Even if Augustine’s religious views do call for a transformation of this world while aiming at the next, he does not deny the important value of the secular (or of the human in this world). This leads to the second critique of Augustine’s use of the doctrine of the two cities, namely his alleged indifference towards the character of the earthly city.

Opposing Earthly and Heavenly Justice?
Let us rehearse the “indifference critique,” which holds that true happiness can be achieved with God and through God alone. One can therefore embrace happiness only by embracing the city of God. Misery, in turn, is inherent to men, and happiness cannot be brought about through philosophy (or any other godless activity) alone. Thus, there is something inherently flawed, lacking or even tragic about political life. Christians should be concerned about their afterlife only. In order to bolster this argument, critics point to Augustine’s claim that so long as the sovereign does not impede one’s ability to be a good Christian, then the nature of regime does not make any difference (De Civitate Dei, Book 5). Moreover, some critics point to Augustine’s beliefs that human ability to act justly is profoundly damaged by sin. Augustine’s conception of justice would thus be fallible and make political life inherently limited. As justice is not conceivable in the earthly city (because the citizens of this city do not recognize the most just—God), peace becomes the lowest common denominator that everyone can agree upon. In short, the civil government could only be legitimated by guaranteeing peace and the worship of the true God.

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While it is true that for Augustine earthly peace does not replace salvation, this minimal peace does represent a sign of heavenly peace. Earthly peace is imperfect but it reminds one of Jerusalem (literally “the city of peace”). As such, this peace becomes dear to the heart of all humanity. Even the heavenly city makes use of the earthly peace, while it seeks compromise among human wills so that people may be enabled to practice true religion. What is more, while Augustine highly praises the “earthly peace” against the “hell on earth,” political authority and enforcement are not a necessary consequence of sin, nor do they exist merely to hold the wicked back and to enable the virtuous to live untroubled among them. As convincingly put by Jean Elshtain, the nature and purpose of social forms and civic life demonstrate that these are not a brute consequence of sin but a work of sinful people who act according to their God-given reason, capacity for love and the lust for dominance (Augustine and the Limits of Politics). In other words, to combat the darkness that attends the life of human society, earthly institutions can only emerge with the virtuous endeavors of citizens who are plunged in the concreteness of this mortal life. As noted by Augustine himself, the things necessary for this life are used by the citizens of the two cities alike. What distinguishes the citizens of the two cities is their different aim (De Civitate Dei, Book 19).

I further argue that from Augustine’s perspective, justice cannot be totally absent from the earthly city. If that were the case, kingdoms would truly be but gangs of criminals on a grand scale. On the contrary, for Augustine no single human society can simply be unjust, because citizens of both heavenly and earthly cities cohabitate the earth. Moreover, while Augustine believes that all justice and all goodness come from the true God, humanity is not bereft of God’s grace but rather participates in this grace. The possibility of a just regime or, more precisely, the possibility of an imperfectly just regime, is therefore present in Augustine’s thought. Because of the Pelagian overly optimistic conception of the ability of humans to be just and righteous merely by the exercise of free will, Augustine is wary of perfectly just societies as a product of human endeavor. From his own experience, Augustine knows that neither the knowledge of the good nor human habit provides sufficient help against the relapse into sin. While he was carried to God by God’s beauty, he soon was torn from God by the weight of his own flesh, damaged by sin. While Augustine acquires much knowledge about God during the process of conversion, he still lacks the ability to amend his habitual appetites in accord to his new knowledge. Augustine realizes that a moral agent is not required to perform immaculately just acts but rather to offer himself susceptible to the action of God. Therefore it is not true that any earthly regime is fine provided that the rulers do not force citizens to impious and wicked acts. Christians are not invited only to worship God but also to work for a city pleasing to God.

Humility Instead of Separation
Christians are called to participate actively in the earthly city in all eras and in all places. Neither do Christians simply withdraw—because even the earthly city is an object of love—nor do they become indistinguishable—because Christians are pilgrims in the earthly city. As an example of Christian political involvement, Augustine argues that despite the mistakes of human judgment, Christians should be judges. Political and social arrangements are therefore needed for Christians in order to realize their calling. What they should be wary of, when exercising authority, is the lust for dominance.

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Augustine calls neither for a complete (and alienating) separation of state and religion nor for a simplistic reduction of the state to an indifferent, minimalist and peaceful modus vivendi. What he does argue for is humility against pride, which puts God in the first place in all aspects of human life. Only through humility toward God are we able to build a fellowship of equality under God.



How does St Augustine view the relation between the state and the church? ›

Augustine (354-430) viewed the state and its relationship with the church. He believed that both the society and the state were created by God as a punitive and remedial institution. Originally men lived in the state of nature. They were innocent and pure-hearted.

What does Augustine's mean by the two cities? ›

Augustine used an illustration of two cities in trying to explain the distinction between the Church and the world. Two loves have formed two cities, he claimed. The love of self has formed the earthly city; the love of God has formed the heavenly one.

What is the significant message of Augustine's City of God? ›

Augustine wrote City of God in part to rebut this notion. He endeavored to show that the Christian God, far from being blameworthy, is actually a source of solace and strength.

What was St Augustine's view of the state? ›

Augustine accepted that Christian Doctrine, that state is a divine institution created by God to remedy the human sins. He stressed that, authority of state must be respected because it maintains peace and protects property and other belongings of citizens.

What should be the relationship between the state and the church? ›

The state is responsible to recognise and protect the Church, and the Church is responsible recognise and advise the state. Many consider it desirable that this material relationship between Church and state should be clearly engrossed in the state's articles of Constitution.

What is the relationship between the church and the state Aquinas? ›

Thomas Aquinas, borrowing from Aristotle, aided in raising the dignity of the civil power by declaring the state a perfect society (the other perfect society was the church) and a necessary good.

What is Augustine's idea of the two loves? ›

In his book, The City of God, Augustine skillfully drew upon two loves: on one hand, a love which is holy: agape, unselfish love, and on the other hand a love which is unholy: distorted love of self; selfishness.

What's the meaning of the City of God? ›

Definition of City of God

: new jerusalem , paradise, heaven.

What is the City of God according to the Bible? ›

noun. the New Jerusalem; heaven.

What is Saint Augustine famous line? ›

There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.” without wondering. ”

What is the nature and purpose of state? ›

independent of external control, and possessing a organized government which create & administrates law over all persons and groups within its jurisdiction is 'State”. will or law of the state is expressed and administrated. of the state from external control. forced subjection of the weak to the strong.

What for you is the main political theory considered to be a contribution of St Augustine in medieval times? ›

Augustine's Conception of Peace. Both Augustine's political world view and his approach to war incorporate his conception of peace. According to Augustine, God designed all humans to live together in the “bond of peace.” However, fallen man lives in society as according to the divine will or as opposing it.

What is the major theme of City of God? ›

Meirelles has said the film's main theme is "the waste of lives" in communities like the City of God.

What is the lesson about The City of God? ›

Lesson Summary

While the city of God offers true happiness and eternal salvation, the Earthly City, or city of Man, will eventually be met with eternal damnation. Or in other words, loving God is the route to heaven, while prioritizing earthly concerns and loving oneself leads to hell.

What is the difference between The City of God and the City of Man? ›

The city of man is based on the love of self while the city of God is based on the love of God and others. [i] The two cities are also intertwined and intermixed in the plane of the saeculum (the current age) and won't be untangled until the end of the world and the Last Judgement.

What is the purpose of church and state? ›

The concept of a “separation of church and state” reinforces the legal right of a free people to freely live their faith, even in public; without fear of government coercion. Free exercise means you may have a faith and you may live it.

Why is separation of church and state so important? ›

It was formalized in a 1905 law providing for the separation of church and state, that is, the separation of religion from political power. This model of a secularist state protects the religious institutions from state interference, but with public religious expression to some extent frowned upon.

What is an example of separation of church and state? ›

What is an example of separation of church and state? Public schools forbidding teachers from forcing their students to say morning prayers is an example of the separation of church and state. This practice was forbidden by the Supreme Court in 1962.

What does the Constitution say about the separation of church and state? ›

The first amendment to the US Constitution states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The two parts, known as the "establishment clause" and the "free exercise clause" respectively, form the textual basis for the Supreme Court's interpretations ...

Where is separation of church and state listed? ›

Separation of Church and State is a phrase that refers to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

When did the church and state separate? ›

By 1833, all states had disestablished religion from government, providing protections for religious liberty in state constitutions. In the 20th century, the U.S. Supreme Court applied the establishment clause to the states through the 14th Amendment.

What have you learned from St Augustine's concept of love? ›

Love is one of the most recurring and central themes in Saint Augustine's works, and his reflections on love have an immense scope. Love is by no means limited to the agency of the human being, but pertains as well to God's love for man and ev en to each inanimate object's love for its natural resting place.

What is the perfect love of God as defined by St Augustine? ›

“Loving the God who becomes human for us means that fruitio Dei does not inhibit human action in the world or extricate it from the world but frees it by ordering it rightly in the world.” In order to love God, in the fullest sense, Augustine does not forsake God's creation and God's creatures.

What are the law of love according to St Augustine? ›

No one claimed any of his possessions as his own, but everything was held in common." Upon this passage from the New Testament, the Rule of Augustine established that the community must live in harmony, "being of one mind and heart on the way to God." The most fundamental message of the Rule is this: Love -- love of ...

Why is Jerusalem called The City of God? ›

Jerusalem has been the holiest city in Judaism and the ancestral and spiritual homeland of the Jewish people since the 10th century BC. During classical antiquity, Jerusalem was considered the center of the world, where God resided. The city of Jerusalem is given special status in Jewish religious law.

How big is The City of God in the Bible? ›

It says in Revelation 21:16 that the height, length, and width are of equal dimensions – as it was with the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and First Temple – and they measure 12,000 furlongs (which is approximately 1500.3 miles, or 1 furlong = approx 220 yards).

What does the city of Babylon represent in the Bible? ›

In the Book of Genesis, chapter 11, Babylon is featured in the story of The Tower of Babel and the Hebrews claimed the city was named for the confusion which ensued after God caused the people to begin speaking in different languages so they would not be able to complete their great tower to the heavens (the Hebrew ...

How long is City of God Augustine? ›

Product Details
Publisher:Neeland Media
Publication date:09/11/2021
Product dimensions:6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.58(d)
11 Sept 2021

Is City of God a true story? ›

The film is based on the true story events of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil at the height of a brutal war between two gangs lead by Manoel Machado Rocha (Mane Chicken) and Jose Eduardo Barreto Conceicao (Ze Pequeno aka Lil Ze). The bloodshed took place during the 70s and 80s in a favela (Cidade de Deus City of God).

What is the main message of Revelation 21? ›

). The Revelation concludes with a final vision of the marriage of heaven and earth where an angel shows John a stunning bride that symbolizes the new creation that has come forever to join God and his covenant people. God announces that He's come to live with humanity forever and that He's making all things new.

What was the famous line quote of St Augustine that inspires other to imitate with? ›

Oh Lord, give me chastity, but do not give it yet. This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections. Patience is the companion of wisdom. Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.

What is the most famous line in the confessions? ›

Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

What was St Augustine's famous quote in regards to sacred Scripture? ›

Faith will falter if the authority of holy scripture is shaken; and if faith falters, love itself decays. For if someone lapses in his faith, he inevitably lapses in his love as well, since he cannot love what he does not believe to be true.”

What is St Augustine view on the relationship between the church and state? ›

Augustine (354-430) viewed the state and its relationship with the church. He believed that both the society and the state were created by God as a punitive and remedial institution. Originally men lived in the state of nature. They were innocent and pure-hearted.

What are the 5 elements of state? ›

THE ELEMENTS OF STATE Population Territory Government Sovereignty Population It is the people who make the state. Population is essential for the state. Greek thinkers were of the view that the population should neither be too big nor too small. According to Plato the ideal number would be 5040.

What is the concept of state? ›

A state is a political division of a body of people that occupies a territory defined by frontiers. The state is sovereign in its territory (also referred to as jurisdiction) and has the authority to enforce a system of rules over the people living inside it.

What are Augustine's two cities? ›

His philosophical/theological doctrine is couched in terms of the “two cities:” Rome (or the new Babylon), which symbolizes all that is worldly, and Jerusalem (the city of heaven), which symbolizes the Christian community.

In what ways did Aquinas break with Augustinian political thought? ›

Breaking with the traditional Augustinian view of political institutions as a result of man's sinfulness, Aquinas argued that man was by nature a political animal, both because he had natural impulses to gather with others of his kind and discuss political concepts such as justice and right, and because political ...

What can we learn from the life of St Augustine? ›

His dedication to preaching and correcting the errors of many should challenge us to wake up, educate and form the consciences of the faithful.

What is St Augustine's view on property war and slavery? ›

Augustine's view marked a clear departure from Aristotle's about property and slavery. Both property and slavery, according to the saint, are contrary to original human nature. But they become necessary in the actual condition of the fallen man. In the natural condition property is held in common.

What is state according to Thomas Aquinas? ›

As with most statist thinkers, Aquinas believes that the state creates the “good” of social order. By setting clear rules, rights and duties, it creates a context for people to flourish and develop, free from the risks of violence and instability. Hence, everyone's general welfare depends on state power.

What is Thomas Aquinas political philosophy? ›

Thomas Aquinas, a medieval Roman Catholic scholar, reconciled the political philosophy of Aristotle with Christian faith. In doing so, he contended that a just ruler or government must work for the "common good" of all.

Which type of idealism was strongly believed by Saint Augustine? ›

The most lasting philosophical influence on Augustine is Neoplatonism.

What is the ethical teaching of St Augustine? ›

Augustine argues that to become righteous, wise and holy in eternity like God, man must seek to grow in virtue, knowledge and love now by submitting his intellect and will, disordered by sin, to God's perfect Charity.

How does St Augustine view self? ›

As Augustine constructs a view of God that would come to dominate Western thinking, he also creates a new concept of individual identity: the idea of the self. This identity is achieved through a twofold process: self-presentation, which leads to self-realization.

What are the 3 main points of Aquinas theory? ›

Aquinas's first three arguments—from motion, from causation, and from contingency—are types of what is called the cosmological argument for divine existence. Each begins with a general truth about natural phenomena and proceeds to the existence of an ultimate creative source of the universe.

Why was Thomas Aquinas important to the church? ›

St. Thomas Aquinas was the greatest of the Scholastic philosophers. He produced a comprehensive synthesis of Christian theology and Aristotelian philosophy that influenced Roman Catholic doctrine for centuries and was adopted as the official philosophy of the church in 1917.

What is Thomas Aquinas divine origin of the state? ›

Thomas Aquinas
Saint Thomas Aquinas OP
BornTommaso d'Aquino 28 January 1225 Roccasecca, Kingdom of Sicily
Died7 March 1274 (aged 48–49) Fossanova, Papal States
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church Anglican Communion Lutheranism
Canonized18 July 1323, Avignon, Papal States by Pope John XXII
20 more rows

What is the difference between Augustine and Aquinas? ›

Augustine teaches us the awe of God coming down to sanctify man, while Aquinas starts with the proper understanding of man and how that leads us up to God. Centuries later, both of these great thinkers are forming the base of a solid, orthodox foundation for our future priests.

In what ways did Aquinas break with Augustinian political thought? ›

Breaking with the traditional Augustinian view of political institutions as a result of man's sinfulness, Aquinas argued that man was by nature a political animal, both because he had natural impulses to gather with others of his kind and discuss political concepts such as justice and right, and because political ...

What is the emphasis of St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas? ›

Both Augustine and Aquinas focused on issues of justice, saw humans as innately political beings, and sought to define the relationship between human and divine law. One of the most influential of their political theories was the concept of the just war, or the morally acceptable use of state violence. St.


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